Would you be willing to work 12-hour long night shifts, 7 days a week, for $2000 a month?
In the coffee shop near my former home, there was an exceptionally friendly waiter who confided in us the terms of his employment. Leaving his wife and daughter behind in China, he toiled here for 2 years, under these conditions. For every $0.80 worth of coffee, he made the trip between the counter and the customer. God knows how many miles he must have walked in that coffee shop every night. One year we invited him to church for a Christmas event, he was so touched that he treated us to coffee the next day, and considered us friends ever since.
Why are we surprised that there is acute shortage of workers for such jobs as these? Singaporeans, fortunate enough to have experienced better living standards, naturally baulk at these harsh jobs. And so bosses turn to foreign workers hungry enough to put up with Dickensian employment. But I can't help thinking that even if there are willing takers, there is something distinctly exploitative in jobs with these conditions. Is it morally acceptable to suppress wages to maximise business profit margins?
Recently I saw a report on the living conditions of some foreigners here, who rent only bed space, not rooms, and share a room with up to 6 people. They remind me of the coolies, aka '猪仔' of my history textbooks.
Offer fairer terms, terms under which a worker can actually have an acceptable quality of life. Perhaps then we could find ourselves less dependent on foreign labour.